Warhol was an artist that covered more or less all artforms; he was in other words much more than just a guy who did a few silkscreens. He was also a renowned underground filmmaker, much more serious about his work than his work itself would have you believe; he even had manifestos for it, more or less official, where he stated that his kind of filmmaking sought to recreate a perspective of filmmaking that completely defied its conventionality. Which is why we get point and shoot plots (or anti-plots that don’t follow narrative structure but somehow can’t help but play out as anything else but fiction films), and on a technical viewpoint, filling his films with strange and random zooming in, extreme slow motions and casual handheld photography.
Chelsea Girls is perhaps his and collaborator Paul Morrissey’s most important work as an underground filmmaker. It too does not follow a narrative, but had much more of a structure than most of the experimental work that he had done before this one. Perhaps that is why the film even became somewhat of an underground commercial success. It portrays the residents of the Chelsea Hotel during the year 1966. Among them, Nico and Ingrid, but also Brigid Berlin and Mary Woronov as Hanoi Hannah to name but a few. They are part of a few vignettes very improvised that usually only end up in bitch fights. All of them are pretty much as important as the next or the previous one. It is the portrayal of a new generation of people that did nothing but try and look pretty because if you look pretty in New York City in the sixties than you can still believe that something cool can happen to you. They whine and look glam, sexy, bitchy with coulourful annoying personalities whether they are filmed in black and white or in colour. It is the unaware elegy of nothing; it tells the story of people doing nothing, maybe it too is nothing. But that doesn’t make nothing uninteresting.
In fact, there is plenty to interest a viewer with an open mind, and does not need conventional filmaking to be entertained (although it must be said that a further requirement is a certain admiration for the other work of Warhol, that is very particular, highly regarded but not by everybody). For starters, the atmosphere that it carries, the same atmosphere that is often identified with the figure of Andy Warhol and his factory is genuinely reproduced, unfaltered by the matter-of-factly neutrality of the camera eye, as neutral as an actuality film, if it weren’t for the camera moving, zooming, and playing around with the focus as the actions take place in the rooms. Another interesting and wll known feature of this film is the way it plays around with split screen in an original kind of way. There is no need to bother trying to find some sort of aritstic explanation for this technical decision, to say the truth, there might not even be one. It just is, and it works great.
Sure, the movie is long, but then again, it’s not like you need to see it all. In current re-releases, the latter one I know of being an Italian print, actually splits the movie in two parts. This movie is really hard to find, but I guess that whoever wants to see it will find a way to get a copy of it somehow. And also, I guess that whoever will eventually decide to sit down and see it will have enough interest for it to like it as much as I did. Perhaps what this film is really missing is the presence of Warhol’s most renowned superstar; Edie Sedgewick.
WATCH FOR THE MOMENT – Ingrid’s initial bitch fight.